My girls emphatically insist on seeing gaudy, kilowatt-sucking, elaborate red-and-white, Rudolph, Frosty and Santa-inspired holiday decorations at the same time as anyone else in the United States — the day after Halloween. It doesn’t matter that they have never lived in the US. And it doesn’t matter that Halloween hasn’t exactly a been “traditional” holiday anywhere we have lived, whether that was in Central or West Africa or, these days, Morocco. Somehow, between their Facebook feeds and the cartoons on television, my kids want their holidays decorations despite all the work my husband and I have spent discouraging them over the last decade or more. Lucky for them, thanks to the savvy of global commercialization, come the first of November, Moroccan grocery stores and businesses have gotten onboard the Christmas hype.
These days, grocery stores in Rabat are filled with rows and rows of boxed chocolates, as far as my weary eyes can see: gargantuan plastic containers of Christmas-themed M&M’s, fancy European-style chocolates, aisles overflowing with bright tinsel, flimsy plastic, some questionable holiday decorations, oversized adult Santa costumes that look somehow off, sad little Charlie Brown-styled Christmas trees, massive amount of garlands and a dizzying supply of ornamental balls. All of this makes my children happy.
I was surprised to find advent calendars (okay, they were Minion-themed, but who cares) for 30 Moroccan Dirham ($3) each!
The holiday season in Rabat has a nice international flair. There are Christmas bazaars held outside in gorgeous garden settings where you can do your shopping for the entire year! Many of them benefit worthy non-profit causes in the city and throughout Morocco and often are in support of women’s groups. The products on display are often beautifully crafted and excellent quality for a reasonable price. Plus, the festive atmosphere is always a huge pull. You can’t beat wandering around a garden Christmas market in sunny, 73-degree weather.
At home, we pull out the Christmas music play lists. Teeny-bop holiday songs for my girls. Mariah Carey for my husband. We throw on the Santa hats. Even the cat now has his own. We decorate our house ad nauseam. My kids make sure every door has a jingle bell or a flowy garland on it. Now, our home is essentially one large sparkly Christmas gift ready to be unwrapped.
My husband usually pulls out his grandmother’s secret Belgian waffle recipe and we all moan because it takes literally all day for him to pull them off and he gets awfully grumpy while he is in preparation mode. The kitchen looks like someone dumped a whole bag of flour under a fan and then turned it on high speed. But then we all reap the delectably delicious benefits afterwards because they are the best waffles on the planet and true Belgian ones at that.
We paint our nails with festive holiday colors or better yet, we go and grab a cheap manicure + pedicure; only about 100 dirhams ($10 total) in our local neighborhood. Now, that’s the spirit!
We try to create a bit of holiday fun that meshes with the country in which we live. Here in Morocco, strawberries are in season in December, which makes for the perfect sweet treat. Dipped in chocolate, these are heaven! If I am feeling ambitious, we try our hand at making our own Moroccan cookies. Anything drizzled in honey is right up my alley.
We also spend time with new friends, both Moroccan and expatriates like ourselves. We feel indebted to be in such a beautiful country with so much to see and do. Traveling in Morocco is practically a holiday gift in itself! And being global nomads, friends overseas become our family. We don’t have that luxury of being close to aunts, uncles, grandparents and childhood friends. We develop fast friendships with others who move internationally and can relate to our roaming lifestyle.
And we are grateful. Oh, so grateful. In this season of giving, no matter where we are, we are thankful.
In the end, I think that you could say we didn’t find the Christmas spirit here in Rabat, but instead, it found us. A non-traditional one at that, but those are perhaps the best kind because they are unique and quirky and lovingly homemade. We don’t have a cookie-cutter life, so our holidays won’t ever be flawlessly pristine. But we like it this way. And we have a whole network of elves, you could say, contributing to our wonderful first, perfectly imperfect Christmas in Morocco!
About the Author
Tara Fraiture is a dual British-American national. She now lives in Morocco with her cat, three kids and husband. In her free time, Tara enjoys belly dancing (badly) and impersonating accents (she’s a whiz, much to her children’s delight). Tara has happily lived in Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, El Salvador, and Qatar. After many years of teaching French and Spanish, this global nomad found her passion (or perhaps her demise) in freelance journalism and she has been furiously writing ever since. And as she puts it, “writing is cheaper than therapy.” Humor is part of her mantra, as well as finding stories with heart and human connection.